There are a few types of shrubs that truly come into their own in the fall. Autumn is generally considered the end of the gardening season but, for some plants, this is when the real show begins. When many of us think of gardens, we imagine them in spring and early summer when they are just dripping with flowers, but incorporating plants for multi-season interest is an important part of landscape design, and here are some stellar plant options to help you do it.
Say the word “autumn” and you can’t help but think of the spectacular gold, red and orange leaves that come with it. It’s not just trees that provide this display for us; there are numerous shrubs that offer fall color as well. One of the most popular is Burning Bush, which turns a brilliant scarlet, giving this plant its name. Two other shrubs to consider are ‘Double Snowflake’ Oak Leaf Hydrangea and ‘Henry’s Garnet’ Sweetspire. Both have eye-catching red foliage in the fall and the added benefit of flowers in summer.
Foliage isn’t the only feature of plants that provide fall interest. Many shrubs will produce berries at this time of year, which not only look great, but also provide food for birds and other wildlife. Two excellent berry producers are Cotoneaster and Pyracantha. Cotoneaster produces red or reddish-coral fruits prodigiously and comes in two forms: low-growing, spreading shrubs such as ‘Bearberry’ or ‘Cranberry,’ commonly used as groundcover, and taller growing shrubs such as ‘Little Leaf.’ Pyracantha, or Firethorn, provides berries in shades of scarlet, orange, or gold. Some popular cultivars are “Navaho,” “Teton,” and “Mojave.” Pyracantha is generally found in two forms: bushy and spreading or espaliered. Espaliered means that it has been pruned to grow upright so it can be trained onto walls, trellises, and other structures. Most cotoneaster and pyracantha have the added benefit of being evergreen.
Some plants provide multiple layers of interest: berries, foliage, and, in some cases, showy flowers in spring. Many of the Viburnum family are good examples of this. Some popular varieties are Korean Spice, Double File, American Cranberry, and Wayfaring Tree. Another option is Chokeberry, which is much prettier than its name implies. It, too, provides foliage and fruit interest, although its flowers are on the smaller side. Berries don’t just have to be for the birds, by the way. One often-overlooked fall performer is the good old blueberry, whose autumn foliage is almost as delicious as its fruit.
If you have your heart set on blooming bushes in the fall, your choices are limited though not non-existent. Southern gardeners can take advantage of multi-season blooming camellias, Encore azaleas, and also loropetalum. Gardeners in the north will be more than happy with shrubs that bloom summer into fall, such as ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea and Butterfly Bushes such as ‘Dark Knight.’ ‘Summer Snowflake’ Viburnum will bloom all season, right up to frost, as will some varieties of rose such as the floribunda ‘Cinco de Mayo’ or rugosa roses. Rugosas have the additional plus of being deer-resistant and many provide showy rose hips when blooming is finished.